Sunday, September 25, 2016

For the Love of Carol

The van pulls up to the gas pump beside me, or on the other side of where I am, really, and the woman in the passenger side is co-piloting, “Pull up a little more, James” and the van glides to a smooth stop. They are a little too far out from the pump, I think, and I might have to help them manhandle the hose that far. James comes in from the driver’s side to open the woman’s door, and the side door to the van is one of those that opens automatically. The woman busies herself with something in the van and James goes to the back of the van and brings out what looks like an aluminum staircase. I’ve never seen anything like this, and I wonder that he can pick it up, but it fits the van side door perfectly and the woman leads an ancient white Lab out of the van.
This is not just an old dog but a very old dog. She struggles down the steps they have made for her but they don’t hurry her at all. “Come on, Carol, you can do it, what a good girl, Carol, “ and Carol is wearing a diaper that the woman removes as she walks Carol towards the grass. Carol’s tail flips back and forth as she walks beside the woman, and I wonder if Carol can see.

“How old is she?” I ask the man as he is struggling with the hose. I pull it out for him and he takes a step back, unsure of my intention at first.
“Sixteen last month,” he tells me, “my oldest found her in the middle of the road, just sitting there, just a puppy, back in 2000.”
I have a story just like that one but I can’t tell it right now, not at this moment, and I can’t explain it, not to a man who has a sixteen year old dog.
“Carol was ten when Danny was born,” and the man motions to the van and I realize there’s a kid inside. “He’s six now, they live next door to us, he’s never known a day in his life without her.”
He tells me his son in law built the steps out of aluminum, he’s an engineer, great guy, good husband and father, paid seven hundred dollars for it to be made, out of his own packet, so Carol could keep going with Marie and him on trips. Marie and Carol come back and I help Carol up the steps. She doesn’t realize I’m a stranger at first then her ears go up, hey, who are you? My name’s Mike and I love you because you are a lab, and an old girl dog, and I know how to pet your ears. Oh, you do, you do, and I love you because you love old girls dogs and I will give you kisses on your head, and Carol makes a new friend just like that, and so do I. Danny is a bright eyed kid who tells me that he’s reading to Carole and that she likes dinosaurs and he gets to hold her water dish, as if I might be easing in on that. Marie puts the diaper on Carol, just on case, and they pour water into a small red bowl and Danny gets to hold it like it’s Holy water, and he is clearly in love with the old dog. They’ve made a harness for her, a seat belt, and as Marie is strapping her in Danny is asking her what book she wants to hear and I help James load the stairs. It’s a light weight thing, and built out of more than seven hundred dollars’ worth of work and I know it.
“You’ve done an incredible job with your family James,” I tell him as we shake hands. “Thank you for what you have done for her.”
“Took the bed off the headboard and footboard so she can still sleep tween us.” He says but he’s suddenly serious.
“We just want to keep her going until Christmas,” James tells me and I realize they’re bargaining and accepting all at once, and trying to explain to me why they’re still hanging onto her, “everyone wants to come home this year to…see her again.” And he looks away from me as the door closes.
Danny is talking to Carol as I walk back to my truck and I wonder what it’s going to be like for him to lose her. These are good people, I tell myself, and they’ll let him cry, mourn, allow him the expression of grief and agony some families deny their male children. They want her home for Christmas, where she can have a piece of turkey and be happy at the treat, and her people will love on her, but she the time comes she will tell her mom and dad that she is tired, and her hips hurt, and she has never felt anything but loved, but please, the pain, and it is time, and it is okay now.

Danny’s heart will break like it never has before. They’re going to kill his dog and he won’t understand about the pain or the time. Young, he will now understand the loss of love, the loss of a loyal and true companion and member of his family and perhaps the first expression of unconditional love that has lasted his entire life will be extinguished and his heart will break. Danny will forever know that dogs are short lived creatures and that each moment with them is a gift. He will grow up to be the type of person who stop in the middle of the road and picks up a puppy and when he had kids of his own they’ll be just like that too.

Take Care,

Saturday, September 24, 2016

The Dead and Buried.

I don’t visit graves. I’ve never gone out looking for the place a body was put and I don’t think I will, ever. There are those who do and I don’t wonder why, but it isn’t for me and it never was. To me a body is to be returned to the earth not put in a container and left forever. There was a time a simple wooden box and a piece of land was all that was needed, if that much, but being dead has gotten to be a big business. When funeral homes took grief and started an industry around it Americans became inured with the way their loved ones were interred. There became a formula to follow and everyone did it the same way, more or less, and perfectly good land became fields were the dead were planted and nothing was allowed to live.

A woman I once dated took me out to a cemetery to meet her parents. We sat on the ground and she talked and I listened and it was more or less an introduction to how she felt about their lives and how she wished they were still around to meet the people she knew now. For her, there was a diving line between those people who knew her when her parents were alive and those of us who only knew them from photos and two names on a piece of granite in a field of stones. Their birthdays were on the same days, but different months, her mother was two years younger than her father. Her mother’s middle name was Oliva, and I’ve always like that name, and said so. We spent an hour or so fending off fire ants and speaking in hushed tones. I do understand the desire to have some geographic location to return to, and some sort of symbol to represent someone at that place. But bodies ought to go back to the earth from which they came. We did it this way for thousands of years.

We had a conversation, the woman with the dead parents and I, about visiting the graves. I never said I wouldn’t go or I didn’t want to go, but sometimes I didn’t or I did, yet I suspect she sensed I was detached from the experience; it’s not that I lacked empathy for her loss but I didn’t feel that same sense of presence when we were there. She asked me if there was anyone anywhere that I went to see and I told her no, there wasn’t and she looked at me as if she was pondering a life with a man who wasn’t going to visit her if she died first. It’s the same sort of look I get when I tell someone I hate Christmas or I don’t like grits.

When I worked in woodyard in Hilton Georgia, there was a group of men who worked with me and they were all from the same small South Georgia town. They told me the story of a man who had died in a house fire and the family looked for his body in the ruins, but there was nothing left of him but some charred bones. One of the men told me that no one could find the man’s heart and I was at a loss as to why they would look for it. He said the heart couldn’t be destroyed by fire and some of it ought to have been found, and they family spent a great deal of time looking for it. I stopped arguing about this point very quickly.

What most people don’t know, and no funeral home is going to tell, is that the heart and other organs are taken out of the body and basically flushed into the sewers. There was a case in Valdosta Georgia when a family wanted another autopsy on their son and when his body was disinterred and taken to a crime lab they discovered it had been stuffed with old newspapers. That’s a common practice and I wonder how many people have been buried with their own obituaries holding their bodies up? But what you see in a casket is a body that has had a lot of work done to it and a lot of things are missing. Poisons have been injected into it and it will remain in some form or another in a concrete box long after anyone who remembers the person is buried, possibly nearby.

Someone in the hills of Virginia is a rock that has a named painted on it. There’s a birthday and a date of death, but that’s all, and that’s the spot a friend of mine had her ashes scattered after she died. One of her cousin’s took me up there to see it one day, and I liked the view from the rock, and this was a good way to do it. Anyone wanting to visit the site had to make a good climb, but it was worth it because it’s so pretty up there. I’m willing to bet no one made that much money off her funeral, and that too, is a good way to do it.

If I can manage it I’m going to be buried in the ground in a pine box or maybe just a shroud. I would rather just be dumped into a hole in the earth and have an Oak tree planted above me, and if anyone wanted to tend to the tree that would be fine, but as far as a marker of any sort I would rather do without. There is no reason whatsoever not to do it this way, as far as I am concerned. Failing at being able to be buried out in the woods, I’m going to be cremated and have my ashes scattered out in the Okefenokee Swamp. I’ll let the red-black water take what’s left of my physical machinery and swirl it around lazily, maybe a few flakes of my physical self will settle down to the bottom and become a home or food for something still living.

I’ve heard it takes four generations for someone to be totally forgotten, but in my case I suspect it will be a lot less than that. There are no children to come speak to the concrete box in a cemetery and there will be no building anywhere that carries my name into the future, no streets named after me, and no lasting legacy of good or evil. Most people fade away like this, into history, yet here we are, hanging onto tombstones and concrete boxes, wasting perfectly good fields, and the dead still cannot hear us.

Take Care,

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Sand and Ink.

There really isn’t anything anywhere that compares with the ocean. A writer can use up a book full of adjectives to describe the size, the color, and the vastness, the motion and the mood of the sea, and never really do it justice. Almost everyone remembers the first time they saw the ocean, if they were not born to those who live or work near it. Almost everyone feels the same sense of awesomeness that accompanies the idea that something that size is that close to where they are standing. The stars in the sky seems far away and they are. But the ocean is right before the eyes and the toes can be dipped into it.

It seems so pretty, so innocuous, and so incredible to stand in the wet sand in front of the ocean and feel the water lapping around the feet and the waves breaking gently, yet noisily at knee level, and it’s easy to forget that thousands, maybe millions of human beings have been killed by this thing. Its hunger for human flesh and bones is as insatiable as the human desire to be near the ocean, in the ocean, to sail and play, to fish and explore, and to die, in the ocean.

Good men, good sailors, great captains, worthy ships and fools all drown and are destroyed by the ocean, when the time comes. “Lost with all hands” is an expression invented by humans to tell other people that the ocean took a ship and everyone on in down to the bottom, once again. Unsinkable vessels litter the depths of the ocean, debris fallen from the watery sky down to the denizens who await a meal. Sailing vessels and skiffs, simple wooden rowboats and battleships become too heavy to float so they sail downward now; their last voyage so many have taken, those who took to the sea, and no matter what gods they prayed to or what they believed of a life after this one, or who they were, the ocean took them inside of itself and the ocean would keep most of the bodies and nearly all of the ships, never to see the sky again.

Everyone laughed at the premise of “LOST” because there was no way, with all of our modern search devises, that an entire airliner, filled with people, could be taken by the ocean without a trace. Yet the Indian Ocean devoured a plane three years ago and they think, possibly, some tiny pieces could be, from that wreck. Those who look for wrecks and the survivors know. They know if not soon then likely never. As benign and wonderful as it is to play in the salt water it is perilous and deadly to be stranded in it. The lifespan of humans caught in open water can be measured in hours and sometimes minutes.

The ocean allows that its edge be a playground, its vast open mouth be entered without fear of death or harm, so that going deeper in seems equally harmless. The further from the sand castles a human gets the greater possibility of being laid to rest in the world’s largest mausoleum. Fools are eaten first, and the skillful can only hope for good luck, favorable winds, and to survive each voyage out into the sea.

How could I not write about the ocean while sitting less than a hundred meters from it? I sleep so close to the shore I could hear it were I not inside. I can awaken and sit twenty meters on a balcony and before me is the ocean. The Gulf of Mexico, technically, yet no less a part of the great water that takes up most of the surface of the earth, and the mass of our bodies, and the whole of our nature.

Create some work, Mike, the ocean calls out to me, that might reflect some part of the glory of the sea with mere words. Use the colors and descriptions that have all been used before, if you will, or invent new ones, or rearrange the old ones, it matters not at all, the ocean tells me. There is nothing greater to compare this to and only lesser wonders can be held up before it, as if I was a caveman trying to explain the nature of the sun by holding up a burning twig. All words fail, these words fail, fail as surely, just like so many great ships and great people who have gone forth to sail the seas just to experience the thrill of not being killed this time by it.

So many people, right there before me, littering the edge of the sea with their plastic toys and their chemicals to keep the sun at bay. They line the mouth of the sea like so many gnats that swarm around the mouth of a dragon, knowing that they are far too insignificant to be eaten. They are safe only through their inability to be discerned or noticed. Even their infants are safe here, and the sea yawns with boredom at their delusion.

Fish, shelled creatures, and other animals in the sea have filled the bellies of humans through eons of time as the sea filled its belly with them. I watch as tiny flashes of light explode at the water’s edge, and millions of photos of the ocean are taken away, see, I tell you, it is harmless and wonderful, the ocean is, say the tourists taking photos of a captured tiger tells me, as they stand behind the glass cage.

The ink that flows through my veins and pumped through my heart tastes of salt. Tears, sweat, blood, and ink cannot exist without part of the ocean being present. The first ink was donated by sea creatures and this ink, bound by electrons and sailed through a space that doesn’t exist, is still powered by the ocean. A writer cannot visit the shore without feeling the yearning to write about it, to shout out to the rest of humanity that such a marvel exists, no lesser wonder than the stars and no smaller than love.

Take Care,